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U.S. Geological Survey Data Series 470

Terrestrial Lidar Datasets of New Orleans, Louisiana, Levee Failures from Hurricane Katrina, August 29, 2005

By Brian D. Collins, Robert Kayen, Diane Minasian, and Thomas Reiss


Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (37.6 MB)

Hurricane Katrina made landfall with the northern Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005, as one of the strongest hurricanes on record. The storm damage incurred in Louisiana included a number of levee failures that led to the inundation of approximately 85 percent of the metropolitan New Orleans area. Whereas extreme levels of storm damage were expected from such an event, the catastrophic failure of the New Orleans levees prompted a quick mobilization of engineering experts to assess why and how particular levees failed. As part of this mobilization, civil engineering members of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) performed terrestrial lidar topographic surveys at major levee failures in the New Orleans area. The focus of the terrestrial lidar effort was to obtain precise measurements of the ground surface to map soil displacements at each levee site, the nonuniformity of levee height freeboard, depth of erosion where scour occurred, and distress in structures at incipient failure. In total, we investigated eight sites in the New Orleans region, including both earth and concrete floodwall levee breaks. The datasets extend from the 17th Street Canal in the Orleans East Bank area to the intersection of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW) with the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) in the New Orleans East area. The lidar scan data consists of electronic files containing millions of surveyed points. These points characterize the topography of each levee’s postfailure or incipient condition and are available for download through online hyperlinks. The data serve as a permanent archive of the catastrophic damage of Hurricane Katrina on the levee systems of New Orleans. Complete details of the data collection, processing, and georeferencing methodologies are provided in this report to assist in the visualization and analysis of the data by future users.

  • This report is also available on DVD-ROM from:

    USGS Information Services, Box 25286,
    Federal Center, Denver, CO 80225
    telephone: 888 ASK-USGS; e-mail:

For additional information:
Contact Information, Western Coastal and Marine Geology
U.S. Geological Survey
345 Middlefield Road, MS-999
Menlo Park, CA 94025-3591

Part of this report is presented in Portable Document Format (PDF); the latest version of Adobe Reader or similar software is required to view it. Download the latest version of Adobe Reader, free of charge.

Suggested citation:

Collins, B.D., Kayen, R., Minasian, D., and Reiss, T., 2009. Terrestrial lidar datasets of New Orleans, Louisiana, levee failures from Hurricane Katrina, August 29, 2005: U.S. Geological Survey Data Series 470, 24 p. and data.




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